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Australia, 2010!
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Part VI: Alice Springs 2
     The next morning we headed to the Alice Springs Desert Park, meeting our new friend Jochem, who showed us around the park.  It was a great place to observe wild reptiles in their natural habitat as well as in captivity.  I will only report on the wild individuals that were seen in the park.  First species encountered was a long-nosed dragon (Amphibolurus longirostris), a nice species with a dark body and a light yellow stripe along the body and a long nose as the name implies.  There were several of this species around the park.  Joe took us to a spot where he has seen ackies before, so we could see if any were out.  We were looking around a pile of rocks, when I heard a rustling across the way.  I walked over to investigate and happened upon the best natural history find of the trip: a pair of mating spiny-tailed monitors (Varanus acanthurus).  We sat and watched them for a while, in which time their breeding session ended and they both went their separate ways down their individual burrows under separate cap rocks.  After a few minutes, they both came out to bask.  I imagine they were somewhat tolerant of people, but they showed a similar space nervousness as the ackie we saw the previous day.  They basked long enough to get some nice pictures.  The female (pictured below) had one of the most interesting patterns I have seen on an ackie.  The oceli were joined into a maze-like pattern.  Very cool to see such rarely seen natural behavior.  Other free ranging herps we saw on the park were central netted dragons (Ctenophorus nuchalis, not pictured), bearded dragons (Pogona vitticeps, including a small juvenile), and various small skinks and geckos (incl. Gehyra variegata).  The park was fantastic and one of the highlights of the trip.
Long nosed


Spiny-tailed monitor, Varanus acanthurus

Bearded dragon in the wild

Bearded dragon in the wild

     That night, we cruised for herps along the Larapinta trail.  After cruising the main road for a while and coming up empty, we turned up one of the gorge roads and came across another target species, the mesa gecko (Diplodactylus galeatus)!  It was a nice specimen with a regenerated tail.  The colors and patterns were very nice and I was surprised how large it was.  What another great find!  After the galeatus, a curl snake (Suta suta, not pictured) was found, followed by the ever-present burrowing frogs brought out by the recent rains.  The last find of the night was a nice large huntsman.  Not the worst night of herping, all found on one of the gorge roads.
     The following afternoon found us hanging out in the park at the old telegraph station.  My target here was the perentie, but alas, no perenties on this trip.  We did see a relative of the perentie, the mourning goanna or black-headed monitor (Varanus tristis tristis).  A juvenile was found on one of the posts around the old telegraph station, and an adult male was up in the boulders.  I thought these were primarily a tree-dwelling species, so I was surprised to find the male among the rocks behaving just like an ackie.  I got a short video (using a long zoom) of the male peeking over the rock, and I thought he would bolt as I approached, but he sat there in freeze mode as I came around the corner to observe him fully.  As soon as I reached for my camera, however, he took off down his burrow under the rock he was basking on, leaving me fumbling for a picture as he dissappeared.  Unfortunately, I didn't get the shot.  A female was found nearby, which posed nicely for video, but took off when I approached a little closer for photos.  The juvenile was bravest (or dumbest) of all and let me take some nice closeup shots as he basked atop the large wood fence post.  Glad at least one of these magnificent monitors let me get a picture.  As he disappeared into the recess within the post, a small unidentified tiny skink poked its head out of the post on the other side, posing nicely for a picture.  Also seen were the ever-present bearded dragons, basking on the rocks in the park area.
Juvenile varanus
                tristis tristis, black-headed monitor

Small skink
     That evening found us cruising the grape farm road up north of Alice Springs.  A new paved road ran parallel to the grape farm road, which we thought would be a great place.  It was a bit cold and we didn't see a single herp.  The only thing cruising the road were kangaroos that would hop along in front of the high beams while the car drove along behind them.  Cruising the grape farm road around midnight, we spotted the only herp of the night; a beautiful beaked gecko (Rhynchoedura ornata).  This termite specialist is beautifully patterned and was a sight for sore eyes!
     The morning brought beautiful weather and a sunny day for a change.  Cruising the grape farm and the new paved road in the day was much more enjoyable, as the wildflowers were in bloom and the central netted dragons (Ctenophorus nuchalis) were everywhere!  Care had to be taken not to run them over, as they would commonly be found basking in the middle of the road.  Several were also seen atop termite mounds.  As we drove back towards the highway, a large sand goanna (Varanus flavirufus) was carefully slinking off the road.  It made its way to the base of a bush, where it froze, supposing it was unseen.  We walked up to the large goanna, taking pictures as we went.  Finally, the personal space was breached, and the lizard zipped down it's burrow.  Always great to see another varanid, especially one that is not DOR.
beaked gecko,
                rhynchoedura ornata

Central netted dragon

Sand goanna, Varanus flavirufus
       Waking to another nice sunny day, we headed back towards Alice Springs.  Of course, coming back into town we had to down another box of Magnum ice cream bars, which were one of the staples of the trip.  Dad and I are big fans of ice cream.  We headed out west along the Larapinta road towards Ormiston gorge, enjoying the green countryside and the occasional bearded dragon on the road.  We made it to Ormiston in the evening, after short stop at Ellery big water hole.  There was enough light for a dip in the gorge, which was very refreshing after the long drive.  The water was pleasant and swimming along the redrock walls was relaxing.  A nervous moment occurred when dad thought he had lost his wedding ring, which later turned up in his pocket.  We dried off on the walk back to camp and had a quick dinner before a bit of spotlighting for bredli in the trees along the creek.  No luck again, but we did see some cool frogs along the wash.
Tree frog

Burrowing frog
     After striking out on bredli, which was not surprising with the high winds and cooler temps, we headed out for a bit of roadcruising.  Dad was a bit worn out, so he faded fairly fast, waking with a start every time I rapidly turned around after spotting something on the road.  The most prevelant herp on the road, and the first one discovered on this drive, was the ubiquitous fat tailed gecko (Diplodactylus conspicillatus), which varied quite a bit in appearance.  They were nice looking geckos with orange zig-zag patterns on a darker background, many of which had regenerated unpatterened tails.  Although there were a lot on the road, it was still fun to see them every so often.  There were also many orthopterans on the road, which appeared very much like geckos, especially when they had been run over.  It was always frustrating to flip around, just to have a large locust fly off the road.  With all the green plants, these hoppers were plentiful.  One very cool bug was the toad hopper, which were squat red grasshoppers that resembled stones or toads.  I also came across a relatively colorful patterned, almost looking like a velvet gecko, which I later learned was a newly discovered species of Gehyra.  Unfortunately, this fast little gecko eluded me and my camera, quickly dashing off the road.  Despite my searching, I was unable to locate the gecko for photos.  Also encountered was a Burtons legless lizard.  The only new species encountered was the one that got away.  Overall, it was a nice night.
     After another hour or so of fruitless spotlighting along the road on the sandstone ledges along the road as well as in the river red gum trees lining the creek bed, we headed back to camp for the night.  The next morning we drove over to Glen Helen where we had spotted a very nice DOR flavi right at the turnoff.  The view was nice and dad and I took turns at the payphone calling home and catching up and telling a story or two to those back home.  Next we headed to the Ochre pits and then on to serpentine gorge, where the hiker ahead of us told us about a goanna he had seen on the trail just prior to our arrival.  Just missed it.  Based on his description, it was likely a black-headed goanna (Varanus tristis tristis).  After enjoying the majestic gorges at this site, the next stop was to be Palm Valley with a stop over in Hermannsburg.  Along the way, we happened upon an amazing elapid; the Mulga snake or King brown (Pseudechis australis)!  This impressive snake stood it's ground on the road and let us photograph at will.  A tap to the tail caused this beautiful specimen to spread it's hood like it's distant cobra cousins.  After a nice round of photographs, the snake grew tired of our pestering and made it's way off the road.  We followed the snake with caution through the desert, and soon the snake took refuge in a thicket.  We could still see the snake and continued to take pictures.  The snake came barreling out of the underbrush and make a feigning attack, before a hasty retreat.  We figured we had bothered him enough, and left him to his escape.  What a thrill to encounter such an impressive snake!
Mulga (Pseudechis
     After we arrived in Hermannsburg, we drove through the town to locate the campground, which we discovered was locked up like fort knox complete with razor wire on the top of the surrounding fence.  All of the stores and fuel stations were locked up with bars on the windows.  The unwelcoming nature of the town did not instill confidence of safety after staying the night here, so we abandoned our designs for Palm Valley and headed back towards Alice and spent another night at Simpsons gap.  Along the way, we stopped for several more fat tailed geckos (D. conspicilliatus) and spiny-tailed geckos (S. ***).  Another curl snake (S. suta) was found close to the turnoff to the gap.  More commonly seen herps.
     In the morning, we made our way up Mt. Gillen.  One of the target species were the milliary dragons that lived atop the plateu.  Unfortunately, the weather was not cooperative. We did see a pair of majestic wedge-tailed eagles, a nice brown falcon, and some megapods as we climbed the steep trail to the top.  At least the cool weather made for a nice hike, and the view from the top was impressive.  Driving into town we saw more bearded dragons, including one that really thought he was invisible, hanging out on the backside of the branch.
     The weather was nice, so we headed back to the old telegraph station for an afternoon nap.  I couldn't sleep, so I went out looking.  On my hike, I got some great video footage of a black-headed monitor, a long-nose, bearded, and some kangaroos.  It was a very nice hike through some neat country.  After I finished hiking the trail, the sky got overcast, and the weather turned.  The rains started, which was bad as we had scheduled with Joe to do a photoshoot of a bredli on a river red gum, and we had to cancel because of the weather.  The rain didn't stop after that and we spent our last two days in Alice in the wet weather.  Luckily, Joe and Tami let us camp under their covered porch to stay out of the rain.  They were great and we had a nice barbecue.  They even set us up with a night tour at the desert park, where we saw some very interesting species of mammal, including bilbies, bettongs, and maras.  What a cool place! 
     We headed off for a couple days in Sydney, visiting the Australian Reptile Park, the Armadale Wildlife Zoo, and a couple private collections with our friends Jason, our mate from the trip north, as well as a new friend Simon who was an attendee at the Symposium.  All of our Australian friends were very hospitable and accommodating.  We also stayed with some friends of the family, Kris and her daughter, who also showed us around Sydney and taxied us to church on Sunday.  We eagerly flew home, anxious to see our families after the long absence.  Although we were there for just under a month, the time seemed equivalent to a week and the time flew by way too fast.  I can't wait to return next year.  Australia was as amazing as I expected and I am so thankful to my wife and family who let me visit, all of our new friends who made our visit very special, and to all the herps that were out for us to find.  I am definitely addicted to Australia!  It was the trip of a lifetime!
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